The Sand Park

'The Sand Park' written and performed by Seamus O'Rourke. Photo: Julie Smith

'The Sand Park' written and performed by Seamus O'Rourke. Photo: Julie Smith

'The Sand Park' written and performed by Seamus O'Rourke. Photo: Julie Smith

'The Sand Park' written and performed by Seamus O'Rourke. Photo: Julie Smith

In 1995, John McGahern wrote of religion in his native Leitrim: “The ordinary farming people had to conform to the strict observances and to pay their dues to the Church from small resources, but outside that they paid it little attention. They went about their sensible pagan lives as they had done for centuries, seeing it as just another of the fictions that they'd been forced to kowtow to, like all the others since the time of the Druids.”

James Anthony Lowery, the only character on stage in Seamus O’Rourke’s new one-act monologue The Sand Park, would probably be too modest to speak ill of his local parish priest, but there are echoes of McGahern’s insight on the “sensible pagan lives” of Irish country people throughout this occasionally poignant play.

Seamus O'RourkeOf course, from the outset, very little seems sensible about James Anthony Lowery. Arriving on stage with a bag of sandwiches, the casually dressed Lowery (played by O’Rourke) takes a seat on a bench and begins to address a patch of soil. He speaks about his daughters’ dislike for stew, their fondness for fast food, the proper way to slice a sandwich, and goes on and on discussing both the mundane and the profound for a nearly hour. In Lowery’s accent and his charming dishevelment, O’Rourke brings the audience deep into the heartland of rural Ireland (Offaly to be exact). It becomes clear quickly that the soil he is addressing has a personal resonance – the small bit of earth contains both his son James Anthony, who was killed in a car collision when he was 14, and his recently-deceased wife Rose. Returning to this field every night, called the Sand Park for reasons even he doesn’t know, and hashing out memories and anecdotes of his lost wife and son are his only way of coping with enormous tragedy.

Lowery is a rural Irish everyman. Despite his grief, he has not lost his ability to laugh at the world, or himself. Though death-haunted, he punctures the morbid subject matter of the play by finding humour all around him, be it in the beat-up cars that made up his wife’s funeral cortège or when the town’s women’s association ruined his night watching football by calling in to his house to see how he was coping. Death is a destroyer of copper-fastened family bonds, but it cannot quell Lowery’s sense of humour. From the beginning to its final image, this is a play that seeks out some light amid life’s gloom.

Seamus O'RourkeO’Rourke is a writer and performer who deserves a bigger audience, and certainly one within the M50. The Leitrim man excelled on the All-Ireland drama circuit before touring a number of his own plays in recent years. He also achieved viral fame last summer for a youtube recitation of a poem he’d written about Leitrim’s All-Ireland semifinal match against Dublin in 1994. The themes of family and sport are present in that and run strongly through The Sand Park. Though the responsibility for delivering all the play’s lines occasionally seemed like a mouthful for O’Rourke, he’s a performer whose strengths are not only in comedy. In The Sand Park, he provides imagined in-game commentary of his son hurling at Croke Park that would impress Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh and injects a tenor’s bravado to his rendition of ‘My Lovely Rose of Clare’.

And though the text was occasionally hampered by its sentimental streak, the centrepiece of The Sand Park is curious and rather disarming. The night before James Anthony Junior is buried, Rose suggests that rather than have him placed in the local cemetery, they inter him in the Sand Park in the dark of night. The casket is filled with concrete blocks and none of the community were the wiser the next day during the funeral service. James Anthony performed the same ritual after the death of his wife. Rather than bury their family on grounds consecrated by the Church, they make the unusual (and possibly illegal) decision to keep their child on their own land. It’s not a political objection to Rome but rather a symbolic effort to preserve that bond of family even beyond the grave, and an expression of the primacy of family in rural Irish life, above any other god or master.

Donald Mahoney

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Sand Park by Seamus O'Rourke

12 Jan - 21 June, 2013 (on tour)

Produced by Seamus O’Rourke
In Civic Theatre

Written, directed and performed by Seamus O’Rourke


Tour continues to: 11-16 March - Town Hall Theatre Galway (studio); 23 March - Abbey Arts Centre, Ballyshannon; 3 April - The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon; 5 April - Glór Theatre, Ennis; 11 April - Droichead Arts Centre, Drogheda; 19 April - King House, Boyle, Co. Roscommon; 25 April - Garage Theatre, Monaghan; 27 April - Solstice Arts Centre, Navan; 11 May - Tipperary Excel, Tipperary Town; 25 May - Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen; 21 June - Iontas Theatre, Castleblaney.